How to Make Food Processor Pie Dough

If you’ve been following my articles and cookbooks for the past, oh, 30 years or so, you’ve probably heard me say about a bazillion times how easy and expeditious it is to make food processor pastry.

It can also be downright dangerous if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, as I clearly was not on a certain crisp fall day in the early 1990s during a pie making demonstration at Boston’s Faneuil Hall in front of a lively crowd that wasn’t even out for blood but got it anyway.

At The Risk of Rubbing Salt Into an Old Wound…

…so to speak, I will not name the principal players involved. Suffice to say I was appearing on behalf of Big Butter, at an event sponsored by Big Magazine, and I had all of about 15 minutes to demonstrate for the hundreds of faithful assembled how to make an apple pie using Big Butter’s butter in the pie dough. (Perhaps “faithful assembled” is a little misleading: think carnival midway, not 11:00 AM mass at St. Mary’s.)

You can tell in the first couple of minutes when you’ve “got” a crowd – a gathering that’s engaged, interested, and ready to have some fun. This one was, and I was quickly on my A+ game, telling stories, seamlessly working in key talking points, and acting every bit the professional I’d been hired to be. Until, that is, I stopped the food processor, reached in to feel my pastry-in-the-making, and sliced my forefinger to the quick.

This, at the precise moment I heard myself saying to the crowd: Be very, very careful when you reach into your food processor to check the dough. You can cut yourself badly if you’re not careful.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

This was not the first time I’d failed to heed my own sage advice – nor has it been the last – but never have I ignored my own advice in such a grand and public fashion.

Had the crowd been smaller or less animated, my fate would have been more apparent. As it was, no more than a handful of people in the front rows had any idea what had happened. I quickly wrapped my finger in tissue and managed my way through the rest of the demonstration.  Twenty years later some of the details are pretty murky, but this much is still perfectly clear: food processor pastry is great, but watch that blade.

Tips For Food Processor Pastry Success

-Not everybody will agree with this, but I prefer to make only one batch of pastry at a time when I’m using my food processor. Processors do a better, more even job of mixing when they’re not too full.

-Make sure your fat is well chilled before you add it to the machine: food processors can create a good deal of friction, and therefore heat, and heat is undesirable when you’re making pastry.

-Pulse the machine in 1 to 2 second bursts to combine the pastry. Do not run the processor continuously or you’ll overmix the dough.

I have a number of excellent food processor pie doughs I’ve been making for years. This favorite, below, yields excellent, flaky results.

(Note: if you have not already, enroll in The Pie Academy and start receiving my video course called 7 Simple Ways to Build a Better Pie. It includes one video devoted entirely to making food processor pastry. – Ken Haedrich)

Food Processor Pie Dough

Yield: Makes enough pastry for one 9" - 9 1/2" deep-dish pie shell; repeat for a double batch

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into approximate 1/2-inch dice
  • 4 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening, in about 8 equal pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup ice cold water (plus a bit more, if needed)

Instructions

  1. Put the butter and shortening pieces on a plate and place in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times, to mix.
  3. Remove the lid and scatter the butter over the dry ingredients. Pulse the machine 4 or 5 times, in a series of 1- to 2-second bursts, until the fat is broken into random pieces.
  4. Remove the lid and add the shortening. Process again, in short bursts, until all the fat is broken into small pieces - some slightly larger, some smaller, than peas.
  5. Remove the lid again and sprinkle all of the water here and there over the mixture. Pulse again until the mixture forms clumpy crumbs that can be pressed together and hold their shape. The dough should not form a ball around the blade, but it will start massing a bit in the machine.
  6. Dump the crumbs onto a large sheet of plastic wrap then pack the pastry as you would a snowball. Place on the plastic wrap - or in a plastic bag - and flatten the pastry into a disk about 1/2-inch thick.
  7. Seal in the plastic - or a plastic bag - and refrigerate for 1 hour before rolling.
  8. HAND METHOD: To make this pastry by hand - without the food processor - chill the butter and shortening as directed. Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to mix. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry mixture until you have large, pea-size pieces of fat. Add the shortening and continue to cut until none of the fat is larger than the size of split peas. Sprinkle all of the water over the mixture and mix quickly, using a large fork, until the dough coheres. (Use additional cold water - adding it a teaspoon or two at a time - if necessary to make the dough cohere.) Pack into a ball, and flatten into a disk on a sheet of plastic. Wrap and refrigerate as directed above.
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